One of the many pictures used in the Bible to describe God’s people is that of a vineyard. The prophet Isaiah sang “a song about a vineyard” (Isaiah 5:1-7), and Jesus took up this metaphor when telling a parable about the religious leaders of His day and how they reacted to Him (Mark 12:1-9).
Israel was also sometimes described as a single vine, planted in the Promised Land and tended by her God so that she would bear fruit (Psalm 80:8-13; Ezekiel 15). But this was a story with a sting in the tail, because a vine that bears no fruit is useless for any other purpose; it will be dug up and destroyed. And despite all the care and attention lavished on them, God’s people did fail to be fruitful.
“He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (Isaiah 5:7)
Psalm 80 speaks sadly of the judgement that is passed on the vine:
“Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire;
at Your rebuke the people perish.” (Psalm 80:16)
But in the very next verse, the psalmist sees a new hope:
“Let Your hand rest on the man at Your right hand,
the son of man You have raised up for Yourself.” (Psalm 80:17)
The true Vine
Many centuries later, the Son of Man sat at a table with His disciples and declared, “I am the true vine.” (John 15:1) God was planting a new vine – and this was a vine with a difference. This one will not fail to be fruitful, because it is none other than Jesus Himself, God’s Son. “I am the vine; you are the branches.” (John 15:4) He is the stem, or rootstock; He provides the nourishment that makes the branches fruitful, and those who believe in Him produce the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22,23) But we must stay connected to Him in order to draw on His vitality and power – otherwise, like severed branches, we shall wither and die.
In this process of fruit production, the branches are not left to their own devices. God is the vinegrower; and He tends each individual branch of His vine in order to get the best possible yield out of it. This involves, amongst other things, regular pruning – and vines need to be pruned hard! Discipline and suffering contribute to the making of fruitful Christians and churches.
Over two thousand years, God’s new vine has grown and flourished. It has many different branches, but all are connected to the same stem, Jesus Christ. If the image of a temple building seems rather static and cold, this is its counterpoint: the Church is a living, growing organism, whose influence extends throughout the world. May those who eat our fruit be blessed by it!